Emmy Looks to Ellen to Reverse Ratings Slide

Aug 15, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The last time Ellen DeGeneres was the solo host of the Emmys, in 2001, the nation was haunted by a terrorist tragedy and the awards ceremony had been twice delayed. Her bravado performance, both tasteful and funny, made for a memorable show and drew generally rave reviews.

Ms. DeGeneres will return next month as solo host of the “57th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards” telecast on CBS, it was announced Friday by Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment, and Dick Askin, chairman and CEO of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

However, this time it is the Emmys telecast itself, rather than the nation’s morale, that is in need of a boost.

Like many other televised kudofests, the Emmys have seen ratings slide in recent years. The high point in recent times was 1994, when Ms. DeGeneres co-hosted the Emmys on ABC with Patricia Richardson, who was then starring on ABC’s hit sitcom “Home Improvement.” That telecast drew 21.25 million viewers.

Last year Garry Shandling hosted on ABC, drawing a near-record low of 14 million viewers and mostly negative reviews. This will be the second year in a row that the network airing the show will not have a host who is currently on its air, which has been the traditional practice.

When Ms. DeGeneres had her only previous stint as solo host, in 2001, the Emmys were also broadcast on CBS, where Ms. DeGeneres was then starring in the short-lived sitcom “The Ellen Show.” The Emmys that year drew 17 million viewers, down from 22 million the year before. But that was considered a fairly strong showing as the nation was still rocked by the 9/11 attacks.

Ms. DeGeneres’ 2001 Emmys performance is also credited with laying the groundwork for her successful syndicated talk show, which launched in 2003. Her work on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” earlier this year won Ms. DeGeneres the Daytime Emmy Award for outstanding talk show host.

In the past year most of the top televised awards shows, including the Golden Globes, the People’s Choice Awards, the American Music Awards and the Grammys, have seen ratings declines. Some suggest there are just too many awards shows. Others think the national mood has turned against such self-congratulation by Hollywood celebrities.

“The bottom line is that there are simply too many of them,” said Charlie McCollum, TV Critic for the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News. “Even the Academy Awards, which has always been the crown jewel of televised awards shows, has seen its glitter diminished by the Golden Globes and other ceremonies. Plus, the awards shows used to be our one chance to see stars decked in their bling-good and bad. Now we can watch them every night on ‘Access Hollywood.’ It isn’t the same.”

Walking the Tightrope

In addition to hosting this year, Ms. DeGeneres will dedicate her show Sept. 19, the morning after the Emmys, to the awards program. It will include behind-the-scenes footage from the broadcast and will mark the first live episode of her syndicated show, which premieres its third season Sept. 6.

Ms. DeGeneres is seen as a return to the Emmys’ past, when the awards were typically hosted by the most luminous of television stars, such as Johnny Carson, Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld and Bob Newhart. In recent years, with some in the industry believing that the live tightrope gig can be a career risk with only a nominal payoff, stars with less wattage have stepped up to the podium. In addition to Mr. Shandling, recent hosts have included Conan O’Brien (2002), Jenna Elfman and David Hyde Pierce (1999), Bryant Gumbel (1997), Paul Reiser (1996) and Jason Alexander and Cybill Shepherd (1994). Two years ago ABC had a hostless Emmys show that included hostlike appearances by 11 comedians, including Ms. DeGeneres. The “hostless” concept was considered a critical disappointment.

The choice of Ms. DeGeneres was first reported online by TelevisionWeek last Friday, after which the academy and CBS put out a press release announcing her selection.

Ms. DeGeneres joked in the announcement in regard to hosting this year: “You know me, any excuse to put on a dress.”

“There is no more perfect choice to host this year’s Emmy show than Ellen,” Emmys telecast executive producer Ken Ehrlich said in the statement. “She brings her own distinct style and talent to everything she does, and this year in particular, with some of the most exciting nominations in years and hopefully a show to match, we’re thrilled to have her bring those talents to the show.”

The news of the host selection comes on the heels of last week’s decision by the ATAS board of governors to not restrict the speeches of writers and directors who win awards. The decision reversed an April announcement that nominees in the six prime-time writing and directing categories would have to prepare pre-taped remarks, which would be played as the winner walked to the stage.

Writers and directors upset about the decision had made threats, including not preparing tapes, preparing tapes that mocked the Emmys and boycotting the ceremony, sources said.

ATAS has announced the first group of presenters for the Sept. 18 telecast. They are Halle Berry, Jon Cryer, Mariska Hargitay, Charlie Sheen, Jon Stewart and Kiefer Sutherland.

Alex Ben Block contributed to this report.